Britain is on the move, but it’s not enough: Major new research highlights the nation’s alarming levels of physical inactivity

According to Nuffield Health’s fourth annual Healthier Nation Index, Brits are now moving 18 minutes more per week than in 2022 - averaging 83 minutes of moderate exercise a week¹. However, despite this, almost 3 in 4 people² are still not reaching the NHS's recommended 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week and 1 in 3 (33%) haven’t dedicated any time to vigorous exercise in the past 12 months.

Physical health

The new research, which is based on responses from 8,000 UK adults, highlights that over half (53%) cite a lack of motivation3 as their main barrier to physical activity, with further barriers including misconceptions about how to exercise and what you can do to ensure you are moving enough.  

The picture is even more concerning for those who stand to benefit the most from movement and physical activity – those suffering from long term health conditions.18 1 in 5 (20%) respondents living with a long term condition state they have done no moderate exercise at all in the last 12 months and almost 4 in 5 (79%) fail to meet the recommended 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week.  

Just over a third of respondents (37%) know that exercise can lower your risk of early death by up to 30% and almost 4 in 10 (39%) know that exercise can reduce your risk of illness, including heart disease and cancer, by up to 50%. 

Mental health

The UK is facing a crisis of inactivity, with implications for our health, economy and future generations. The younger generation (16-24 year olds) are less aware of the impacts of movement, with less than 4 in 10 (36%) of 16-24-year-old's knowing that exercise can improve their mental health. This age group also cites the negative impacts of issues like body confidence (51%) are acting as a barrier to exercise, with 51% also stating that cost is a barrier9

Gender inequality

The Nuffield Health Index highlights the ongoing gender inequality when it comes to access to exercise, with men reporting that their fitness levels have improved over the past year (38% better4 vs 26% worse5), whereas women state their physical fitness has got worse (31% better6 vs 33% worse7). Plus, almost 6 in 10 (59%) women list lack of motivation as their biggest barrier to getting more active8.  

National Movement Strategy

In response to these worrying findings, Nuffield Health is leading the call for all major political parties to commit to a National Movement Strategy to promote physical activity and embed movement into every aspect of society benefitting both the nation’s health and economic wellbeing. 

Cost of living crisis 

People’s financial health is also a barrier to health and fitness. 59% said that the cost of living is having a negative impact on the health of the UK10, and 59% said the cost of living has had a negative impact on both physical and mental health11.  

The data also suggests this will have a wider impact on the economy, with 61% of Brits saying they are less productive at work if they are in a poor physical state12, and this figure rises to 64% for those in a poor mental state13. Those living with long term conditions are most seriously affected, with stats increasing to 65% for poor physical health14, and 67% for poor mental health impacting productivity levels15.  

Commenting on this latest research Dr Davina Deniszczyc, Nuffield Health Medical and Charity Director, says; “Whilst it’s encouraging to see improvements in activity levels, it’s surprising and worrying to see that there is still a lack of understanding of the benefits movement has in preventing and treating long-term conditions. We’re already seeing the detrimental effects inactivity levels are having on our personal health, but it’s also having an economic impact.

It is critical that as a nation we prioritise movement and work collectively across Government, healthcare providers, employers and the fitness industry, as well as at community level, to find solutions to help people find ways to build movement into their everyday lives.”

Our Ambassadors

Nuffield Health Ambassador, Dame Kelly Holmes comments; “Movement has so many benefits for both body and mind, and there needs to be more awareness and understanding of this. For some it might be running a half marathon or sweating it out in the gym, however for others it’s a leisurely swim, a brisk walk to the shops or a commitment to take regular breaks away from the desk that can make all the difference. 

By breaking down physical activity into enjoyable and manageable forms that suit you, your motivation increases and it’s no longer perceived as a chore. Once these changes become a habit, then you can make more and build on them.” 

Nuffield Health Ambassador, Fara Williams MBE adds; “It’s hard to see such high inactivity levels in general, but even more so for those who are living with long term conditions. Having suffered with injury myself, I know the importance of daily movement in keeping my body and mind healthy. 

The findings highlight a real lack of awareness around the negative impact a sedentary lifestyle can have for those also diagnosed with these types of conditions. More needs to be done to show the big impact daily movement can have in the long-term.”   

Nuffield Health has launched the #MyDailyMovement campaign, sharing educational content and expert advice to dispel some of the more common myths and raise awareness of the importance of daily movement. For more information click here.


[1] - Up from 79 minutes in 2023, and 65 minutes in 2022, data from Nuffield Health’s Healthier Nation Index 2022 and 2023 

[2] - Combing answer options of; ‘0 - In the last 12 months, I have not dedicated any time to this, per week’, ‘Less than 15 minutes’, ‘15-30 minutes’, ‘31-59 minutes’, ‘1 hour-1 hour 14 minutes (60-74 minutes)’ and ‘1 hour 15 minutes-2 hours 29 minutes (75-149 minutes)’ 

[3] [8] [9] - Combining ‘Significant barrier’ and ‘Slight barrier’ answer options 

[4] [6] - Combining ‘Significantly better’ and ‘Slightly better’ answer options 

[5] [7] - Combining ‘Significantly worse’ and ‘Slightly worse’ answer options 

[10] [11] - Combining ‘Significant impact’ and ‘Slight impact’ answer options 

[12] [13] [14] [15] - Combining ‘Strongly agree’ and ‘Somewhat agree’ answer options 

[16) ‘Misconceptions’ for young people include knowledge around exercise improving mental health, sleep boosting immunity, and exercise reducing risk of serious illness. Barriers for women include things such as cost, time and motivation

[17] – Study from Zurich 

[18] – Study from the Integrated Care Journal 

Research information

The total sample size was 8,000 adults (aged 16+) across the UK. Fieldwork was undertaken between 14 February and 1 March 2024. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are nationally representative, unless indicated otherwise. Censuswide abides by and employs members of the Market Research Society which is based on the ESOMAR principles. 

A copy of the dataset used can be provided on request. 

About Nuffield Health 

Driven by our purpose to build a healthier nation, our experts have been working together for more than 65 years to make the nation fitter, healthier, happier and stronger.

Nuffield Health provides health and wellbeing for every part of you. We believe that the best healthcare should help prevent illness by looking after mind and body. That’s why our connected health and wellbeing offering spans physical and mental health – from providing mental health support or hospital care and treatment to personal training, health assessments, GP services and physiotherapy.

We work together as a team to help you achieve your health and wellbeing ambitions, championing free health and wellbeing programmes in local communities by giving more people the tools they need to live a healthy life. These programmes help people understand and improve their own health, from those living with joint pain, to helping rehabilitate people experiencing the long-term effects from COVID-19.

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Last updated Wednesday 17 April 2024

First published on Wednesday 17 April 2024